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USA Today and the Washington Postlead with Iraq’s prime minister suggesting for the first time that he would favor establishing some sort of timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. During a visit to the United Arab Emirates, Nouri al-Maliki talked about the security pact currently being negotiated between the United States and Iraq, and said it looks like the two sides will “reach an agreement on a memorandum of understanding either for the departure of the forces or a memorandum of understanding to put a timetable on their withdrawal.” The White House publicly said the statement was consistent with U.S. policy, but the Bush administration has frequently spoken up against a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsboxlead with the car bomb that exploded outside the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan’s capital yesterday, killing more than 40 people. Almost 150 people were injured in what was the deadliest suicide attack in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Afghan officials immediately suggested that Pakistan was involved in the attack because of the historical tensions between India and Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan denied any connection, as did the Taliban, who frequently disavow knowledge of attacks that kill a large number of civilians. The bomb marks the latest example of how violence is on the rise in Afghanistan as militants have been carrying out more sophisticated attacks.

It’s unclear whether Maliki’s talk of a withdrawal timetable actually reflects a change or if it’s just another example of how the prime minister talks tough when he’s addressing regional audiences only to temper his remarks in negotiations with U.S. officials. USAT notes that some think the tough words were nothing more than a negotiating tactic. Still, as the WP highlights, the move reflects the “political dilemma” that Maliki and other members of his government are facing as they prepare for the upcoming provincial elections. Many in Iraq’s opposition, including Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr, have long talked about a timetable, which is an issue that many Iraqis support. The Post notes that the fact that there’s talk of a “memorandum of understanding” suggests the United States and Iraq are far from reaching a long-term agreement.

The WP, NYT, and WSJ all front the plunge in the shares of the government-sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Their share prices had already been in a free-fall lately but, in just one day, the stock price of Fannie Mae plunged 16 percent while Freddie Mac’s tumbled 18 percent and reached the lowest price in more than 14 years. The NYT notes the companies have each lost more than 60 percent of their market value since the beginning of the year. The WP highlights that the sell-off was a result of a report that claimed the two companies would have to raise $75 billion of capital under a proposed change in accounting rules. But even the report said that if the proposed changes were enacted, the two mortgage giants would probably be exempt. The NYT and WSJ take a longer view and say the plunge is the latest sign that investors think the problems in the housing market will last longer than many had initially predicted.

A day after both of the presidential contenders talked about their plans to turn around the economy, the LAT fronts a look at how Sen. Barack Obama has been making lots of promises for new federal programs that he probably won’t be able to fulfill. Budget analysts say that if Obama gets to the White House, he’ll soon realize that there isn’t enough money in the budget to actually carry out many of his campaign-trail promises. So far, the plans Obama has proposed add up to $130 billion a year, and that’s without counting his middle-class tax cut that would amount to $80 billion a year. Obama’s campaign insists there will be more than enough money to go around once some existing programs are cut and the war in Iraq comes to a halt. But he would hardly be the first politician to temper his ambitions. When former President Bill Clinton first came into office in 1992, he quickly “scaled back his ambitions” and paid more attention to cutting the deficit.

Deficit cutting was also in the mind of John McCain yesterday as the presumptive Republican nominee announced that he intends to balance the budget by the end of what would be his first term as president. Yesterday’s announcement brought McCain “full circle,” as the WP puts it, because the nominee had earlier promised the same thing only to change his mind in April when he said it might take two terms to balance the budget. Needless to say, there’s skepticism all around that he could actually accomplish the feat, considering that he wants to extend Bush’s tax cuts and cut other taxes without detailing a significant new source of revenue. The NYT says McCain’s statement shows how “some of the underlying tensions between the two schools that guide his economic thinking—the supply-siders who want to cut taxes and the deficit hawks who want to balance the budget—remain unresolved.”

If how a candidate runs his campaign is any indication of what his presidency would look like, McCain’s White House would be one big personnel mess, suggests the NYT. McCain’s campaigns have always been defined by feuding cliques that are constantly battling for the candidate’s ear and recent developments have shown things are no different this time around.  One of the big problems seems to be that McCain is “uncomfortable” firing people, so he often fails to cut ties with those who have outlived their usefulness.

The NYT fronts a look at how some in Colombia are worried that the recent rescue of 15 high-profile hostages will take attention away from saving others who were kidnapped by the FARC and are still languishing in the jungle.

The NYT and Post front news that Marcus Brauchli was selected as the new executive editor of the WP. Brauchli, who was the editor at the WSJ until shortly after Rupert Murdoch took over the paper, will officially succeed Leonard Downie on Sept. 8. The choice was a bit surprising partly because the Post is known for promoting from within, but also because of the fact that Brauchli has little experience in Washington and never had to deal with local news during his many years at the Journal. Selecting the 47-year-old Brauchli is seen as a sign that the paper’s new publisher wants to shake things up and combine the paper’s print and Internet operations, an effort that Brauchli carried out during his tenure at the WSJ.

Despite the “stereotype” that the typical user of private planes is “a well-off guy in a big corporate jet,” the NYT’s Joe Sharkey reveals the shocking news that women also take private planes. And if the fact that the number of women who eschew commercial air travel continues to grow isn’t enough for you, the NYT reveals another shocker: Women like to take private planes for the same reason as men. Well, except that for women, as we all know, “ego and status seem to be less important” than avoiding the hassle at commercial airports (and, of course, they also have to deal with that pesky family-work balance).

Glad we cleared that up. A correction from the NYT: “An article on Thursday … omitted a source of income for the University of Wisconsin. … In addition to money from the State Legislature and from donations, foundations, federal research grants and corporations, the university also receives money from tuition.”